Prosecutors have launched on Tuesday an investigation into the death of a Sarajevo doctor whose wife has questioned how health workers have treated her COVID-19 infected husband before he passed away.
Epidemiologist, Dr. Sefik Pasagic, was admitted to the designated COVID-19 hospital in Sarajevo on April 1, after having had fever and breathing problems for 13 days.
The current pandemic procedure in Bosnia requires people to stay home and call doctors if they suspect they might be infected. This is designed to prevent people from going to hospitals and spreading the virus.
Upon such a call, health authorities have to visit the patient at home and if necessary transport him to the designated COVID-19 hospital.
Dr. Pasagic’s wife told the Klix.ba portal that health authorities were giving her a runaround, instructing her for days to call other health institutions for help and refusing to come and check on the patient because they had no protection gear.
Only after 13 days she finally managed to persuade them to allow him to be admitted to the hospital where he eventually died.
“He was 60 years old but had the heart of a 30-year-old athlete,” she said, adding that her husband was well known for his caution and his healthy way of life.
She said that her husband was not even put on a ventilator when he died and asked what an average person can expect if doctors treat their colleague this way.
But the head of Sarajevo’s designated COVID-19 hospital, Sebija Izetbegovic, told reporters that dr Pasagic arrived at the clinic with severe pneumonia which was diagnosed at a private clinic.
The hospital doctor immediately concluded that Pasagic was in a seriously bad condition caused by coronavirus and ordered testing that came out positive.
“Dr. Pasagic stated that he was previously tested negative. Our colleague placed him in a separate room where he stayed until the (new) test results came the next morning when he was given the best-known therapy,” Izetbegovic said.
“We have done everything in our power. We express our condolences to the family and we believe that the public deserves to know the truth,” she added.
The death of dr. Pasagic has caused a public uproar. The family as well as the public demand to know under which circumstances he died on Sunday."We will check whether there are elements of a criminal act,” the spokeswoman of the Sarajevo Canton Prosecution Office, Azra Bavcic, told reporters on Tuesday.
In Bosnia, family doctors are supposed to send patients to epidemiologists of local polyclinics and those then send COVID patients to the designated hospital.
Local polyclinics, however, have complained that their staff does not have enough protective gear to visit potentially infected patients at home.“Our health system is not good,” Izetbegovic said, claiming she was insisting on changes for a long time.
“This crisis will expose all the malfunctions of the health system,” she concluded.
Bosnia has been testing strategically - only contacts of already infected people and people who show symptoms are being tested.The country has about 760 COVID-19 positive patients, 50 of them in Sarajevo. However, the COVID hospital, which can accommodate 100 patients, is currently treating only eight.
This is due to heavy restrictions. Bosnia’s schools, businesses and kindergartens have been closed for almost a month.
A stay-home decree ordered people above 65 and younger than 18 not to leave the house ever, while a police curfew was introduced for everybody from 8 pm until 5 am. People are banned from moving around without masks and gloves.
Only grocery stores and pharmacies are open. Public transportation has been stopped and no more than two people are allowed to ride in a car.
The Crisis Headquarters in the Bosniak-Croat half of the country recently announced a change in strategy and opted for mass testing. It ordered 150,000 test kits to be distributed to clinics in Sarajevo, Mostar and Tuzla.
The kits arrived on Monday and Izetbegovic said the Sarajevo clinic now has enough but called for more restrictive protection measures.
“This will not pass for at least another two months,” Izetbegovic said, adding that those months will be critical and that more restrictive measures should be introduced.
Meanwhile, Bosnia’s Security Minister, Fahrudin Radoncic, asked citizens to submit any documentation proving cases of health workers refusing to treat patients, calling some doctors “deserters” and adding that a lot of them decided to take a vacation during the pandemic.
"This society has invested a lot of money into doctors and they are educated to perform their work and now polyclinics do not admit any patients,” he said.
The Sarajevo Canton government has not done anything about this problem, he said and announced that he will request the cantonal minister to create procedures potential patients will be familiar with as right now, “people have no idea whom to contact" if they suspect they might have caught the virus.